Craigslist is currently my favorite method for collecting cameras. Read on to see why.
On the surface, Craigslist is simple. It’s a modern electronic version of a newspaper classified ad. It’s so much more versatile, though. Collecting via eBay is quick and easy, but it’s impersonal. Ebay has made it incredibly simple to purchase a camera without ever dealing directly with the seller. Paypal and the USPS assure that it will show up at your door in a week or so.
Craigslist involves meeting people and often learning the stories behind the cameras. My darkroom came from a woman in Somerville for $100 complete. I helped her move it out of her store room. My Crown Graphic belonged to a suburban detective. My Speed Graphic came from a man who was liquidating his departed father’s collection, and I got to meet his cats. Tomorrow I’m going to meet a retired professional photographer to buy the camera he carried on vacation for 30 years. These aren’t my $4 cameras, but the stories make them more alive.
In practice, Craigslist can be daunting. There’s a lot of stuff there. I use an automated search like If This, Then That. Whenever a new ‘film camera’ post appears in my area, I receive an email. I live as close to Kittery, ME as to Boston, so I monitor Boston, North Shore, NH, and ME lists. The Boston ones are now automatically posted to my Twitter feed (@mack505) for the benefit of my film-y friends there.
Many people have inflated opinions of the value of their equipment. You will find dozens of $25 Instamatics and $150 K1000’s. Don’t despair. Unlike on eBay, everything is negotiable. If you like a camera but don’t think it’s worth the asking price send a polite email with an offer. Many sellers will accept, as you may be the only offer they receive.
If they refuse, I hold my line. I remind them the offer is for cash and is still open. They usually come around. If they refuse again, I wait for them to repost the ad in a week or two. They usually will accept my offer then. Be firm but not insulting. It works.
A word about safety is in order. Craigslist deals are usually in cash, so I advise meeting in a public place. In my area, there is virtually nowhere more than 10 minutes drive from a Dunkin Donuts. Sometimes I feel like a drug dealer, but I’ve made some great deals in DD parking lots. You should have the chance to inspect the camera before you buy it, and either of you can always walk away from the deal if things aren’t what you expected.
That’s it. Use a search automator, be firm in your offer, think safety first, and be nice. You might just land a camera that was taking crime scene photos before your were born.